Watering Potted Plants

Most Potted Plants require more care than those planted in the earth. The reason is that in their unnatural isolated environment, they do not have the benefit of the moisture and nutrients that the earth can provide to them. Whatever they require to remain beautiful and luxurious must be provided by you.

When you water your potted plants, do you wonder if they get enough? Often we give them just enough to keep the overflow from making a mess. When plants are regularly watered from the top, there is no way to be sure that every Root and Rootlet got a drink.

The "drink" contains dissolved nutrients that the moisture has removed from the soil. The plant needs these for health and growth. Every Root is important to the well being of the whole plant. Imagine if your family got lots of food, but YOU were left out.

The next time you finish watering a smallish potted plant, do this:
Fill a bucket with water and submerge the plant. If air bubbles pop to the surface of the water, there probably were roots that were still thirsty. The rest of your potted plants are very likely similar.

#1 - The DIP Method
The Dip Method was just described, where you submerge the whole plant. Keep it under water until there are no more air bubbles surfacing. You can be sure that every Rootlet is satisfied, and the foliage got a bath at the same time. This may not be possible with larger plants, but read on. . .

#2 - The TUB Method
This method is handy for pots that are too cumbersome or large to lift. Here the potted plant is kept in a tub that has a drain threaded to accept a garden hose. The tub must be higher than the soil level in the pot. Fill the tub with water until it is above the level of the soil and the bubbles stop surfacing. Then drain the water out with a garden hose. Leave the hose on until there is no more seepage. Then screw a water-tight cap on the drain.

#3 - The RESERVOIR Method
With this method, a small pot or other container with a hole in the bottom
is buried in the center of the container, level with the soil. It is filled with water every day or two, and has the effect of watering from the bottom of the container.

I prefer that the watering pot reaches to the bottom of the container. The taper may cause the pot to be rather large. Or you can use a length of 1" plastic pipe that is cut off at an angle to prevent it from sealing on the bottom of the container as below:

#4 - The PIPE Method
This is similar to Method #3, except that the pipe holds less water, and so it may take longer to pour enough water to satisfy the plant.

#5 - The DRIP Method
With this method, a length of small-diameter tubing brings water from a pressurized source or an elevated reservoir. A valve controls the flow to an occasional drip. The drip must be just often enough to replace the water that the plant and air have absorbed. One drop every ten minutes may be adequate for a small plant in a cool, humid location. But another tube going to a large plant where it is hot and dry may have to supply a drop ever few seconds. It is important to check the output occasionally, in case the supply has been interrupted.

#6 - The WICK Method
Here the tubing from Method #4 has been replaced with a length of wick that moves water by capillary action. It has the benefit of being more or less automatic in that dry soil will take more water from the wet wick than damp soil will.  Of course, the water supply may not be pressurized. The wick can be a rope made of absorbent material. If you put the wick inside a length of tubing (except for the last 6"), there is no chance of things it accidentally touches becoming wet. The diameter and elevation of the wick determines the water flow. Several wicks may be needed to water a large potted plant.

These last two methods may be ideal for vacationers. If you use any of these methods, it is best to have the pot in a saucer to catch any seepage. Usually seepage will evaporate from the saucer before it overflows. 

All of these methods attempt to get water to the bottom of the pot. When the pot is watered from above, the tendency is for roots to grow near the surface where the nutrients are dissolved. This causes plants to be "shallow-rooted". This same inadequate watering outdoors may cause plants to suffer greatly on hot summer days when the roots get warm and dry.

The water may contain dissolved natural or commercial plant nutrients, which you prepare according to the directions on the package.


To be sure that roots are getting adequate water, you can use a Moisture Meter. It has a metal probe that you push into the soil to indicate the amount of moisture present. I find them to be very useful.

While you may not appreciate the appearance of opaque containers, they do have the advantage of visual moisture monitoring.

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